Classics can be accessible

23rd June 1995 at 01:00
On a recent Any Questions on BBC Radio 4, one of the questions asked was: "In light of the new English key stage 3 prescription of a 'pre-20th century author', could the panel suggest an author suitable for a 12-year-old to study, and why?"

The panellists gave Hardy, Austen, Dickens and Thackeray as their choices. I cannot help feeling that the panellists had misunderstood, or worse ignored, the question. I was distressed at the choices offered, having had books thrust upon me at my own school, an English public school, far too early .

My own experience of Austen at 12 meant that I was unable to return to many "classics" until much later in life. I teach in a secondary modern school and know that any of my 12-year-olds faced with the language and concepts of Thackeray's Vanity Fair, or with the long descriptive passages in Austen's Pride and Prejudice would be put off "literature" for life.

What can we expect when the politicians who direct the curriculum are so out of touch with the pupils at the "sharp end" of their decisions? There is an excellent body of pre-20th century literature which I believe is accessible to the majority of 12-year-olds. I offer a short list: Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland; Rudyard Kipling, The Jungle Book, Stalkey Co, Kim; HG Wells, The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, War of the Worlds; Daniel Defoe, Robinson Crusoe; RL Stevenson, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Kidnapped, Treasure Island; Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers, The Man in the Iron Mask; Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, Around the World in 80 Days; Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court ; Frances Hodgson Burnett, The Secret Garden, Little Lord Fauntleroy; Charles and Mary Lamb, Tales from Shakespeare.

I hope you agree a far better selection for 12-year-olds than the group chosen by the politicians!

PAUL HOPKINS 22 Eastfield Street Lincoln

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